Ending “bulk collection” of library records on the line in looming Senate vote

Man peers through American flag as though it is a window

Image Source: PolicyMic

Last week, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly, 338 to 88, for passage of the latest version of the USA FREEDOM Act, H.R. 2048. The bill — and the battle to achieve the first meaningful reform of the USA PATRIOT Act since it was enacted 14 years ago — now shifts to the Senate. There, the outcome may well turn on the willingness of individual voters to overwhelm Congress with demands that USA FREEDOM either be passed without being weakened, or that the now infamous “library provision” of the PATRIOT Act (Section 215) and others slated for expiration on June 1 simply be permitted to “sunset” as the Act provides if Congress takes no action. Now is the time for all librarians and library supporters — for you — to send that message to both of your US Senators. Head to the action center to find out how.

For the many reasons detailed in yesterday’s post, ALA and its many private and public sector coalition partners have strongly urged Congress to pass the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 without weakening its key, civil liberties-restoring provisions. Already a finely-tuned compromise that delivers fewer privacy protections than last year’s Senate version of the USA FREEDOM Act, this year’s bill simply cannot sustain further material dilution and retain ALA’s (and many other groups’) support. The Obama Administration also officially endorsed and called for passage of the bill.

Unfortunately, the danger of the USA FREEDOM Act being blocked entirely or materially weakened is high. The powerful leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is vowing to bar consideration of H.R. 2048 and, instead, to provide the Senate with an opportunity to vote only on his own legislation (co-authored with the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee) to reauthorize the expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act with no privacy-protecting or other changes whatsoever. Failing the ability to pass that bill, Sen. McConnell and his allies have said that they will seek one or more short-term extensions of the PATRIOT Act’s expiring provisions.

Particularly in light of last week’s ruling by a federal appellate court that the government’s interpretation of its “bulk collection” authority under Section 215 was illegally broad in all key respects, ALA and its partners from across the political spectrum vehemently oppose any extension without meaningful reform of the USA PATRIOT Act of any duration.

The looming June 1 “sunset” date provides the best leverage since 2001 to finally recalibrate key parts of the nation’s surveillance laws to again respect and protect library records and all of our civil liberties. Please, contact your Senators now!

Additional Resources

House Judiciary Committee Summary of H.R. 2048

Statement of Sen. Patrick Leahy, lead sponsor of S. 1123 (May 11, 2015)

Open Technology Institute Comparative Analysis of select USA FREEDOM Acts of 2014 and 2015

Patriot Act in Uncharted Legal Territory as Deadline Approaches,” National Journal (May 10, 2015)

N.S.A. Collection of Bulk Call Data Is Ruled Illegal,” New York Times (May 7, 2015)

About Adam Eisgrau

Adam Eisgrau is a former managing director of the Office of Government Relations.

One comment

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